The Epic Poem

6 key features to recognize an epic poem as a literary genre 

Origin, definition and structure

- Features

- Themes

- Famous epic poems

Origin, definition and structure

The Greek terms "epikos" and "epos," which denote "a word; a tale; poetry in heroic verse transmitted orally," are where the word "epic" originates.

It frequently takes the form of a long, finely written narrative poem that follows characters from the upper socioeconomic classes on a number of adventures. The events, which center on a hero, are essential to comprehending a nation's history. 

Epics' genesis is still up for discussion. One idea holds that the first epics emerged from the fragmented works of unidentified poets, and that these early episodes were progressively gathered and transformed into a coherent whole and an ordered chronology. The concept that the epic poem is the outcome of a process has largely replaced this theory even if the materials were assembled in this way. 

As a result, it is now generally accepted that the epic poem was written by a single genius who gave it meaning and structure.


These stories highlight significant historical or cultural events while exemplifying the values of a society. 

The following traits are present in epics:

- The story is centered on a mythical hero. Everybody else fails, but the epic hero prevails. Typically, the hero is praised for his or her remarkable bravery and strength.

- The action takes place across land, sea, the underworld, or through space or time, among other places, not simply in the physical but also in the cosmic spaces.

- The poem has a refined style.

- All perspectives are presented through the third-person narrator, who sees, knows, and experiences everything.


The principal themes of epic poems are bravery, strength, fighting for one's king and people, loyalty, revenge, honor, generosity, and reputation.

Famous epic poems

Terrance Lindall at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Terrance Lindall at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Paradise Lost by John Milton

The epic poem by John Milton, which was composed in blank verse, is divided into two parts: a story about Satan and a story about Adam and Eve.

Alexl1400, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Alexl1400, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Beowulf (Anonymous)

The experiences of a young warrior are detailed in Beowulf.

LnT suggests

LnT consulting the page titled Beowulf for further information

LnT Bates, Catherine, editor. The Cambridge Companion to the Epic. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

LnT Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New World Library, 2008.

LnT Allums, Larry. The Epic Cosmos. University of Delaware Press, 2017.

LnT "Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature." D.S. Brewer, Dentith, Simon. Epic and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

LnT "Epic Poetry." Poetry Foundation,

LnT "Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature." D.S. Brewer,